Adventures in Wortcunning: The Myrtle of Venus & Bacchus’ Vine

Adventures in Wortcunning: The Myrtle of Venus & Bacchus’ Vine July 3, 2015

Today, we call it the “Star Spangled Banner”. The lyrics we most often sing (read as: mumble) at the start of a ball game were written in 1812 by Francis Scott Key to accompany a popular melody of the time. It has only been the US National anthem since 1931.

Painting (by LTJG James Murray) of Francis Scott Key penning the Star Spangled Banner, NHHC Photo NH 86765-KN
Painting (by LTJG James Murray) of Francis Scott Key penning the Star Spangled Banner, NHHC Photo NH 86765-KN

Below are the original lyrics to that drinking song as first published in 1778 with a added few notes:

  • The song was composed to be the anthem of a gentleman’s drinking club, devoted to wine, women and song – perhaps in that order.
  • Anacreon is the name of a famous Greek poet with similar tastes who lived some 2500 years ago, long before we ‘found’ the North American continent and called it ‘the New World’.  Momus is the god of mockery and satire.
  • The song tells of men who ask Anacreon, the poet to sponsor their club. He says yes, and “I will also…” All the trouble ensues from there. I won’t ruin the ending for you.
  • One of the herbs appearing in the song is Myrtle (myrtus communis) sacred to Venus/Astarte. It is infused in water and used for youth,  love, fertility and prosperity workings. Bacchusvine was of course the grape, which has long associations with fertility, lineage and abundance as well as over-indulgence and drunkenness. Bay Laurel is used to impart protection, healing, psychic powers, strength and purification.
  • This poetry was written as solo performance art, meant to be spoken or sung by one person with musical accompaniment. This means the melody is as much a part of the song as the words. Think of “Stairway to Heaven” or “Amazing Grace” – it would be difficult to separate the words from the music in your mind. The same was true for people of the time. Hearing the tune naturally would bring to mind it’s original words.

These are those words:

To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian:
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute, no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,

And besides I’ll instruct you, like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

The news through Olympus immediately flew;
When Old Thunder pretended to give himself airs.
“If these Mortals are suffered their scheme to pursue,
The devil a Goddess will stay above stairs.
Hark, already they cry, in transports of joy,
Away to the Sons of Anacreon we’ll fly,

And there with good fellows, we’ll learn to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ Vine.”

“The Yellow-Haired God and his nine lusty Maids
From Helicon’s banks will incontinent flee,
Idalia will boast but of tenantless shades,
And the bi-forked hill a mere desert will be.
My Thunder no fear on’t, shall soon do its errand,
And dam’me I’ll swing the Ringleaders I warrant.

I’ll trim the young dogs, for thus daring to twine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Apollo rose up, and said, “Pry’thee ne’er quarrel,
Good King of the Gods, with My Vot’ries below:
Your Thunder is useless” — then showing his laurel,
Cry’d “Sic evitabile fulmen” you know!
Then over each head, my laurels I’ll spread,
So my sons from your Crackers no mischief shall dread,

Whilst, snug in their clubroom, they jovially twine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Next Momus got up with his risible Phiz
And swore with Apollo he’d cheerfully join —
“The full tide of Harmony still shall be his,
But the Song, and the Catch, and the Laugh shall be mine.
Then, Jove, be not jealous of these honest fellows.”
Cry’d Jove, “We relent, since the truth you now tell us;

And swear by Old Styx, that they long shall intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Ye Sons of Anacreon, then join hand in hand;
Preserve Unanimity, Friendship, and Love!
‘Tis yours to support what’s so happily plann’d;
You’ve the sanction of Gods, and the Fiat of Jove.
While thus we agree, our toast let it be:
“May our Club flourish happy, united, and free!

And long may the Sons of Anacreon intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”  

Thank you to herb lore master S. Cunningham and Wikipedia for making this research so much easier. And much gratitude to Ralph Tomlinson  & John Smith for composing the original lyric and tune.

And Happy Birthday to that merry club! Long may we flourish as we “intwine” the Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ Vine.

Who says we aren’t a Pagan nation!?


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